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Tinnitus
February 10, 2009 8:38 PM   Subscribe

That Buzzing Sound: The mystery of tinnitus.
posted by homunculus (76 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I haven't read the article yet, but if it says anything good I'm thanking you in advance from the bottom of my heart. I haven't heard silence since May 6, 2006. I really, really miss it.

P.S. -- My tinnitis is in B flat. Anyone else ever test it against a piano?
posted by miss lynnster at 8:49 PM on February 10, 2009


Heck, I've noticed this noise since I was 6 or 7 and figured it was normal. Later when I was older I found that it had a pitch of around 16 to 17 kHz. I still hear it. The thing that's weird about tinnitus is the pitch never shifts; it's always the same. I wonder why that is.
posted by crapmatic at 8:51 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's that I hear, boys
Ringin' in my ear?
I've heard that sound before


"What's That I Hear?"
Phil Ochs (1964)
posted by rdone at 9:01 PM on February 10, 2009


Kinda, sorta, not really related:

"Y'know that ringing in your ears? That 'eeeeeeeeee'? That's the sound of the ear cells dying, like their swan song. Once it's gone you'll never hear that frequency again. Enjoy it while it lasts. "

Children of Men (2006)
posted by lattiboy at 9:14 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


The best part about your ears ringing is when you put your head up against someone else's, and they can hear it too.

The worst part is your ears ringing.
posted by bigbigdog at 9:23 PM on February 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


thanks for this - I love my iPod, hate the reverb.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 9:41 PM on February 10, 2009


I've had tinnitus for as long as I remember - at least my early teens. Never thought of trying to see if someone else could hear it though - I'll have to see if that works.
posted by the dief at 9:53 PM on February 10, 2009


It's all gone Pete Tong.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:06 PM on February 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


P.S. -- My tinnitis is in B flat. Anyone else ever test it against a piano?

I got some weird ear-infection when I was 21 or so and I had tinnitus for a few weeks. Every so often it comes back, only for a few moments, but every time it does I get very scared that it won't go away, but I've been very lucky so far (touch wood!) It's in C-sharp (D-flat if you're one of them flat key types!)
posted by ob at 10:16 PM on February 10, 2009


My dad suffers from Tinitus that drives him really crazy, Whoops and Tweets of varying volume and a sound like screaming. He says that if things get too quiet it makes him emotionally ill and depressed because the noise is so all-consuming. He has a hearing aid that produces white noise to help, but that exacerbates his hearing loss. It's lose lose for him.

I was hoping to read in that article that the Military was spending billions on solving the issue, but it didn't seem like it.

To bad. I want to see my Dad enjoying life when he retires, not suffering because of phantom noises.
posted by NiteMayr at 10:20 PM on February 10, 2009


I began to notice quiet but persistent tinnitus about a month ago. I think mine falls on a microtone interval somewhere between B flat and B but it does change pitch depending on the time of day. Might be blood pressure related, the pitch change.
posted by bz at 10:42 PM on February 10, 2009


The best part about your ears ringing is when you put your head up against someone else's, and they can hear it too.

Am I missing the joke here? This is impossible; tinnitus isn't caused by an actual sound.
posted by Justinian at 10:57 PM on February 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


Based on my observations of my husband, I have to recommend not having daughters if you're a sufferer of tinnitus. Little girls shriek at precisely the pitch and level required to produce an ice-pickesque pain that lingers long after the squeals themselves have faded, and they do it ALL THE TIME. It's the only reason I wish we'd had boys.
posted by padraigin at 10:58 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


That Children of Men quote is sampled in the first track here. Never knew where it was from before.
posted by aubilenon at 11:03 PM on February 10, 2009


anyone know if those bone conduction headphones do anything for tinnitus...? I always wondered if the bone-conduction route would mask the ringing without further damaging one's hearing...
posted by mhh5 at 11:18 PM on February 10, 2009


I have had tinnitus for the past four, five years. I'm now 24.

The article is a *very* interesting read. Thanks for it!
posted by simoncion at 11:21 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


padraigin, boys can yell pretty loud too.

I used to have tinnitus pretty bad. But ever since I lost 15KHz+ completely, I've been fine :-/.
posted by Araucaria at 11:25 PM on February 10, 2009


I have hyperacusis in both ears - growing up I only had it in my right ear but in the last couple of years I've since developed it in my left ear as well. Its not tinnitus (although many of the best audiologists I've seen have tried to write it off as such) as it is not constant, mine is not a ringing so much as a dull static roar (the kind you got when you turned an old pre-cable TV to a channel with no signal). And I only hear it when whatever sounds my ear is processing are too loud for the nerve - anything from eating corn chips to riding the subway to going to the movies. I used to carry an earplug everywhere, until one audiologist speculated that perhaps just exposing my ear to the loud sounds would eventually wear down my hearing and in turn the hyper-acute manner in which my ear was hearing. She was right - years later I no longer carry an earplug and the affects are significantly lessened, although my "better than perfect" hearing is now probably "less than" - at least in the right ear.

Audiologists used to insist that tinnitus was a condition that affected both ears equally, although that opinion seems to be generally shifting as of late. Hyperacusis, which the article only refers to briefly, is a much less studied or understood field of hearing. Fully 99% (or more) of hearing-related medical study is devoted to forms of hearing "loss" - of which tinnitus is one. Very little is understood or even pursued from the perspective of medical study on the opposite problem - hearing so well that the nerve is often overwhelmed with the sound. I've written about it on AskMe both here and here.

Having a constant hearing condition is more painful and causes more mental anguish than I think most people who've never dealt with something of the type can possibly imagine. I of course wouldn't put it up there with the horrors of things like blindness or diseases like cancer and the like, but there's something uniquely horrible about something that you struggle with every day for your whole life, and it will never go away, and there's nothing you or anybody else can do about it. Its nice to see that more focus is being given to tinnitus and those suffering from it.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:44 PM on February 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I only actually hear my constant high-whistle when I read about the condition - usually I'm tuned-out to it. (I generally assume it's correlated to my barely hearing cicadas anymore.) When I read about folks driven to suicide by tinnitus, I get worried I'm so unconcerned about my own.
The description of the condition in this article reminds me of that story about the vicious phantom itching, and the fascinatingly simple therapy using mirrors to feed the brain corrective (albeit bogus) visual data - Jastreboff's tinnitus retraining approach seems an auditory equivalent of that. As often, though, a little googling will dampen hasty hopes...
posted by progosk at 12:26 AM on February 11, 2009


I have had tinnitus off and on since my late teens - mostly the high pitched whine kind, like a TV or CRT where the flyback transformer is about to go. Since a phone call 4 years ago that lasted all day (pair-programming with someone in another city) it's been more or less permanent. Sometimes it's not a whine, but cicadas chirping (yeah we have cicadas where I live, but not in the middle of winter...)

Interestingly, when I read this sentence in the article "When I clench my jaw, my tinnitus gets quieter" I tried a self-experiment. It gets louder if I clench my jaw, much more so if I engage my neck muscles as well - and for a few seconds after I relax, it's gone.

So far it's not loud enough to really bug me, but I dread old age amplifying it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:29 AM on February 11, 2009


I have mild tinnitus that I only hear in the absence of other sound. It's not particularly painful or annoying to me, though, so I suppose I'm thankful for that. I do have occasional bouts of a high pitched sound in one ear or the other, but it only lasts for around 10 seconds and sort of fades in and then out again.
posted by Fleebnork at 12:45 AM on February 11, 2009


I'm so screwed when I turn old. I'm 23 and I have a quiet high-pitch tinnitus, as well as floaters in my eyes.
posted by amuseDetachment at 12:47 AM on February 11, 2009


what
posted by iamkimiam at 1:19 AM on February 11, 2009


I thought I had Tinnitus for some time, but as it turned out I just have high pitch sensitivity and roommates who never turned the TV off. It must be awful to hear that all the time.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:19 AM on February 11, 2009


To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells. From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
bells, bells, bells.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:20 AM on February 11, 2009


I've got all sorts! Had a couple of tones since I was a toddler - I used to put my ear on the floor and listen, because I thought it was coming from the house. I think I thought is was gas pipes, or the central heating. And listening to metal thru headphones from age 14 to about 23 added a couple more tones. And I get a sort of swooshing white noise sound as well - a different one in each ear.

I remember going caving once. We crawled through tunnels until we reached an small underground chamber, where we were instructed to turn our torches off and listen to the absolute silence. I don't think I really got to appreciate what the tour guide was on about...

The jaw thing works for me, too - adds a new, louder tone.
posted by dowcrag at 2:23 AM on February 11, 2009


I have had tinnitus ever since sticking my head in the bass bin at a Nick Oliveri concert, I can't understand why...
posted by gallagho at 2:29 AM on February 11, 2009


I have this in my left ear, I've yet to see a doctor about it. It's only noticeable when it's very quiet, such as when I'm going to sleep at night. Any ambient noise will drown it out. But there's a psychological aspect to tinnitus as well; I only really hear it when I think about it (like now when I type this, I can hear it slightly), but usually I go weeks without noticing it. It's kind of a quantum hearing problem--only when I think about it does it pop into existence.

My case is a cautionary tale; about 10 years ago I flew to Thailand from Japan (about a 6 hour flight) while in the midst of a full-on head cold. The air pressure difference when we were landing caused excruciating pain in my left ear, and it actually went deaf in that ear for about 24 hours after arriving in Bangkok. My hearing seemed to go back to normal after that, but many months later I went to a doctor who told me it's likely that I caused permanent damage taking that flight. And here we are, hellloooo tinnitus!
posted by zardoz at 3:05 AM on February 11, 2009


Justinian: in some cases, you can actually hear the ringing of somebody else's tinnitus. It's an incredibly strange and poorly understood phenomenon, all round.
posted by cmyr at 3:07 AM on February 11, 2009


So it wasn't the hissing of summer lawns after all.

Justinian: in some cases, you can actually hear the ringing of somebody else's tinnitus.

That's a continuation of the joke, right? Because otherwise: I don't believe it. If you're hearing anything when you put your ear up to someone else's shell-like, it's got to be because it's like listening to a seashell. There is no actual ringing in anyone's head. Unless you're Quasimodo. The bells! The bells!
posted by pracowity at 3:20 AM on February 11, 2009


Not specific to tinnitus, but here's a recent Science Friday piece on hearing research. Two things I learned from that show: Some folk's ears actually do make noise, and Ira Flatow himself deals with tinnitus.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:50 AM on February 11, 2009


Justinian: "The best part about your ears ringing is when you put your head up against someone else's, and they can hear it too.

Am I missing the joke here? This is impossible; tinnitus isn't caused by an actual sound.
"


Not necessarily. There is a difference between objective and subjective tinnitus.
I remember reading an article in a popular science magazine on this; they mentioned something akin to this technology which might be used to treat certain types of tinnitus by producing am inverse waveform.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 4:09 AM on February 11, 2009


I have had it for about ten years. It's constantly there, although I don't usually notice it. Sometimes it's very loud, and I fear that it will stay that way.

History: I was drafted into the Army in 1967, despite being totally deaf in one ear. I don't remember whether they told us to only wear one earplug when on the firing range in Basic Training; it wouldn't matter to me anyway. I did wear one in my good ear. This was firing the M14, not the M16. In Vietnam, I heard some loudness; the worst was hand grenades. Nobody used earplugs. I rode motorcycles both before and after the Army - mostly two-strokes. Not much loud music exposure, but some.

Until this constant ringing showed up, I'd only hear something like it after exposure to some especially loud noise, either explosive or continuous high-decibel, like a lawnmower engine, or a long bike ride.

Now, I always use an earplug when running power mowers or table saws or the like. I haven't reached the point where I feel the need to seek medical help. Maybe if I do reach that point, they'll have a ready cure.

Please do yourselves a favor and protect your hearing.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:10 AM on February 11, 2009


I use these earplugs when jamming or going to a rock show or similar. I'm nervous about my hearing.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 4:37 AM on February 11, 2009


Yes, indeed - protect your hearing. I blame my tinnitus on rock and roll (I was a lighting tech for small-time rock bands for about a decade). My father had it too, probably from his service on a battleship in WW II. Some days its worse, some better; it's always there but I can ignore it and it doesn't bother me too much psychologically. It does interfere with my hearing - particularly with understanding speech and particularly when there are when there are complex background noises. The high-pitched hiss/whine masks the sibilants of human speech, so mainly I just hear the vowels. Don't talk to me at a party, I won't understand a word.
posted by tommyD at 4:37 AM on February 11, 2009


I can't believe that in a geek farm like Metafilter, no one's mentioned the fact that William Shatner was almost driven to suicide by tinnitus, and is now its poster boy.
posted by Faze at 4:42 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


For those of you who know the key or frequency of your tenitus, how did you go about figuring that out?
Also, anyone ever get that thing where one ear loses all hearing for about five seconds, aside from a loud high pitch sound? I get this every once in a while, but for some reason never really though much about it.
posted by orme at 4:46 AM on February 11, 2009


My friend calls it titiness, which amuses him.

Just don't look think about it, seems to be the best solution.
posted by asok at 5:20 AM on February 11, 2009


orme, when you hear it, go to a piano or a keyboard and find the tone that matches it. Presto!

I suppose this doesn't work if you have no access to a piano or can't tell relative pitch.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:11 AM on February 11, 2009


Blood makes noise - from Suzanne Vega - if we are going to be adding in musical tinnitus numbers. Given the number of musicians who suffer from it there must be a substantial playlist or relevant tracks out there.
posted by rongorongo at 6:19 AM on February 11, 2009


I can't believe that in a geek farm like Metafilter, no one's mentioned the fact that William Shatner was almost driven to suicide by tinnitus, and is now its poster boy.

Or, equally geeky, that Roger Miller's tinnitus was a primary cause of the breakup of Mission of Burma.
posted by ArgentineBlonde at 6:25 AM on February 11, 2009


Everytime a Tinnitus FPP shows up I run off to search for the old PSA that ran constantly through my youth. Static shot of a dramatically lit mannequin head, black/grey background with overlapping tracks of different everyday noise building up, steadily, until it all becomes white noise and then abruptly goes silent. After a beat, three red lazer spots ping on the temple of the mannequin head and a ultra high pitch tone pulses slowly.

It freaked me out. I want to see it again and see if I remember it correctly. Has anyone else seen this? It hasn't turned up on youtube, or at least not spelled correctly.
posted by JBennett at 7:33 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, anyone ever get that thing where one ear loses all hearing for about five seconds, aside from a loud high pitch sound? I get this every once in a while, but for some reason never really though much about it.

Yes. Then, the high pitched sound fades out in a few seconds, but there's still some lingering tinnitus for a minute or two.

Weird.

Seems like everyone has tinnitus.
posted by setanor at 8:01 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, anyone ever get that thing where one ear loses all hearing for about five seconds, aside from a loud high pitch sound? I get this every once in a while, but for some reason never really though much about it.
That's the ringing I was talking about. Next time it happens, get a friend to put their ear next to yours and see if they hear anything. I've done this and they heard it too.
posted by bigbigdog at 8:04 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Don't know how accurate it is, but I found this pretty cool sound frequency chart.

My ringing seems to be around 8kHz.
posted by orme at 9:01 AM on February 11, 2009


For those of you who know the key or frequency of your tenitus, how did you go about figuring that out?

In my case absolute pitch.
posted by ob at 9:05 AM on February 11, 2009


Next time it happens, get a friend to put their ear next to yours and see if they hear anything. I've done this and they heard it too.

They are hearing the sound of blood flowing through their head, just like when you put a seashell to your ear and "hear the ocean".
posted by Justinian at 11:37 AM on February 11, 2009


So the sound of blood flowing through their head sounds like a high-pitched squeal? Neat. Wonder how they live like that.
posted by bigbigdog at 11:47 AM on February 11, 2009


I haven't heard silence since October 17th, 2001. While my tinnitus doesn't seem to have been induced by any loud sounds or illnesses whatsoever, I can tell you you don't want to have it. I'd think twice about loud concerts especially and I'd swallow my ego over wearing ear protection.

And while ambient noise can bury it, and while I do get distracted over the course of a day and forget about it for awhile, by far the worst part is the loss of silence.

I would really like to hear silence again.
posted by lpsguy at 12:11 PM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Or, equally geeky, that Roger Miller's tinnitus was a primary cause of the breakup of Mission of Burma.

Dang me!
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:15 PM on February 11, 2009


I really enjoyed this article until Dr. Groopman called neti pots "extreme" and threw them into the same "folk medicine" category as ear candling. Huh? My totally not-hippy ENT recommends flushing the sinuses with saline.
posted by desuetude at 12:38 PM on February 11, 2009


My favorite part about having tinnitus is when I get my yearly hearing test, and I try to explain to the tech that it's hard to hear some of the sounds over the "background ringing", to which I usually receive a strange look and a "What do you mean background ringing?"

Mine is from firing guns and going to shows without ear plugs. Now everytime I go to a show and see Rock Medicine there passing out earplugs for free, I put a ten spot in their donation jar.
posted by Big_B at 1:05 PM on February 11, 2009


So the sound of blood flowing through their head sounds like a high-pitched squeal? Neat. Wonder how they live like that.

No, tinnitus that sounds like a high-pitched squeal is subjective tinnitus, there is no actual sound. Unless you'd like to propose a mechanism by which your ear can produce such a thing?
posted by Justinian at 1:12 PM on February 11, 2009


The most fascinating thing about this subject for me is the fact that some people are really, really disturbed by it, while others are not bothered by it much. I only notice mine when I look for it, which I always wrote off to sensory adaptation.
posted by moonbiter at 2:30 PM on February 11, 2009


allkindsoftime: Amazing! I too have always had that problem- crowds and dance clubs in particular are very unnerving. The noise becomes pure static and I can't make out any other sounds until everything quiets down. It's wonderful to have a name for the problem, and to know that I'm not alone! Thank you.
posted by WowLookStars at 2:38 PM on February 11, 2009


The most fascinating thing about this subject for me is the fact that some people are really, really disturbed by it, while others are not bothered by it much.

That's because for some people, it's kind of quiet and in the background. That's me - most of the time, but sometimes IT GETS REALLY FUCKING LOUD and it's hard to ignore something like that. I assume that's what it's like for the people who seek medical or newage help.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:04 PM on February 11, 2009


No, tinnitus that sounds like a high-pitched squeal is subjective tinnitus, there is no actual sound. Unless you'd like to propose a mechanism by which your ear can produce such a thing?

Tones generated by the inner ear were predicted in 1948 by cosmologist Thomas Gold, and detected in 1978 by David Kemp.

They occur spontaneously, and when the ear is stimulated by sounds.

They are currently an important diagnostic indicator of hearing problems in people who can't report what they are hearing or not hearing, such as babies.

I don't blame you for being incredulous. They are amazing.
posted by jamjam at 3:09 PM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Huh. Well I never.

Still, that doesn't sound like what we're discussing. But wow.
posted by Justinian at 4:15 PM on February 11, 2009


I tried to give you a soft landing, Justinian, but you're kind of a hard case.

Tinnitus associated spontaneous otoacoustic emissions:...

...Direct evidence of these are spontaneous otoacoustic emissions (SOAE) which have been registered in the human and animal ear canal. In mammals. outer hair cells (OHC) seem to be the origin of this mechanical energy, because they exhibit motile responses to various stimuli. Here we report on bilateral tinnitus and bilateral SOAE with both acoustical phenomena located in the same frequency range. In a playback of the SOAEs their frequences were identified as the pitch of the tinnitus.

Does that satisfy you?
posted by jamjam at 4:32 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


jamjam: Not really. I don't see reason to believe that the tinnitus in that case is so loud that it can be heard by other people not just the person experiencing the tinnitus. Which was the assertion.

Maybe I'm just a stubborn hardcase, but it would take some pretty dang impressive evidence for me to believe in tinnitus that other people can hear.
posted by Justinian at 5:05 PM on February 11, 2009


(If you meant was I satisfied that some SOAEs can have associated tinnitus, though, then yeah obviously I am).
posted by Justinian at 5:07 PM on February 11, 2009


Do you really not understand that the article I linked describes a study in which the investigators actually recorded tones from the ears of tinnitus sufferers, then played them back to the subjects, who were able to identify those tones because the recordings matched the subjectively experienced pitch of their tinnitus?
posted by jamjam at 5:19 PM on February 11, 2009


Yes, but the sensitivity of scientific recording devices can be much higher than that of human hearing, and given they can be placed actually inside the ear itself, that's a far cry from a human being able to hear someone else's tinnitus with their own ear.

We need some evidence that the SOAEs are loud enough to be heard outside the head of someone who has them. If they were, don't you think they would have been identified less than thirty years after they were predicted? If all you have to do is listen quietly to someone experiencing this and you can hear the sound, it would be trivially easy to replicate. What I can read indicates that SOAEs are extremely quiet things that can't be heard without the use of scientific instrumentation. We're talking about sounds in the range of -20 dB. On a log scale. Where normal breathing is about 10 dB. So this stuff is as quiet compared to human breathing as a lawnmower is compared to a typical human voice in normal conversation.

But I actually experience the type of tinnitus we're talking about; my hearing will go out for a few seconds and be replaced by a (usually) high pitched tone in that ear which gradually fades. So next time that happens and a friend happens to be around, I'll jam my head against theirs and ask what, if anything, they hear.

WIN WIN.

(Weird, I just got one as I was typing this. Nobody is around though, except my cat, and I don't think he'll understand why I jammed his head against mine).
posted by Justinian at 5:45 PM on February 11, 2009


It occurs to me that one rejoineder is that the ear could be capable of producing sounds louder than typical SOAEs, and that could possibly be one cause of tinnitus associated with SOAEs. In which case the whole "jam my head against a friend's head" experiment is definitely a go. It may be a week or two before I have the opportunity, unfortunately/
posted by Justinian at 5:49 PM on February 11, 2009


There are quite a number accounts out there of others hearing tones from the ears of tinnitus sufferers, though I don't recall whether any of the ones I've read include the frequency-matching step.

However, I am reluctant to Google them up and link them here for fear of forcing you into such extreme contortions, to avoid drawing the obvious conclusions, as would terrify your poor cat and give him a bad case of kitty PTSD. Dumb animals do tend to excite my sympathies.

I hope you will try your experiment, and please allow me to offer you an explanation of your tinnitus in the meantime.

I'd guess your ear with tinnitus is generating a tone constantly, and your brain is generating a phantom tone to mask it. (Gold's experiments showed the ear can perceive phase, but I can't decide if it's physically or physiologically coherent to imagine that a phantom tone could be 180 out of phase with the original, so that the two cancel each other-- on the whole I doubt it.)

But when your hearing in that ear drops out for a moment for some reason (low blood flow, for example), so that there is less or no input to the brain from that ear, the real tone no longer cancels the phantom tone, and you hear the phantom tone until your brain reacts and turns the phantom down to the appropriate level for masking.

If I'm right, you don't have to wait. Just find a quiet place and a friend with good hearing, and do what comes naturally.
posted by jamjam at 6:56 PM on February 11, 2009


OK, now you're kinda freaking me out. You're saying my ears make that noise all the time?

Actually that's kinda cool now that I think about it. Brains are awesome.
posted by bigbigdog at 7:18 PM on February 11, 2009


And apparently I like to say "kinda." Yes. Yes, I do.
posted by bigbigdog at 7:21 PM on February 11, 2009


Thanks, I've had tinnitus for about 20 years. I normally never think about it or notice it although its constant and very high pitched. NOW its all I can hear!!!!
posted by Unred at 7:30 PM on February 11, 2009


I have had tinnitus for the past four, five years. I'm now 24.

A story that is going to be increasingly common as the iPod generation unplugs their headphones long enough to realize that they've permanently damaged their hearing.

My mistake was riding motorcycle at highway speed without earplugs. Bad move.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:32 PM on February 11, 2009


And air tools. And some stupidity involving iPods. And a traumatic head injury.

But mostly the motorcycling, IMO.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 PM on February 11, 2009


My tinnitus began abruptly in 1982, as I was emerging from a sushi bar after a fantastic meal. It has never left, though much of the time I'm unaware of it. Over the years, I noticed that the tinnitus increased in loudness after I ate salty food or was dehydrated. During that sushi meal I enjoyed prior to the onset of my tinnitus, I'd eaten very salty fish generously doused with soy sauce.

The tinnitus abates or markedly decreases when I drink lots of water. Since many hypothesize that tinnitus is the sound of blood flow, it makes sense that when intravascular water is reduced and blood pressure is increased, the noise of the flow (plasma, cells, and cell fragments) may grow louder.

I've asked friends suffering from tinnitus to hydrate themselves when their tinnitus is loud and report any changes. A few experience the same relief I do. Here's an article that discusses the link between diet and tinnitus noise.
posted by terranova at 11:42 PM on February 11, 2009


Kirth Gerson: That's because for some people, it's kind of quiet and in the background. That's me - most of the time, but sometimes IT GETS REALLY FUCKING LOUD and it's hard to ignore something like that. I assume that's what it's like for the people who seek medical or newage help.

That is one of the things I find fascinating about it. When I pay attention to it it seems really loud and distracting (for example, when I went to bed after reading this thread last night). But today, I didn't notice it at all until I started reading this thread again.

Of course, I'm not saying that sufferers should just ignore it and it would go away. I don't believe that would be effective. But it is one of those disorders where psychological perception of pain and similar stimuli seem to play a large role. Which I find interesting, and something I wasn't really aware of about tinnitus. I thought it was simply the result of physical damage to the ear, which caused the nerves connected to the broken hair cells to send a constant "busy signal" to the auditory center of the brain. Why it would vary in subjective volume is a strange thing to me.
posted by moonbiter at 10:51 AM on February 12, 2009


I guess I wasn't being clear. When I say REALLY LOUD, I mean loud enough to drown out normal conversation. That's not a psychological, it-just-seems-louder-because-I'm-paying-attention effect. It really is a lot louder.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:18 AM on February 12, 2009


The Straight Dope:
Doctors traditionally have distinguished between objective or "real" tinnitus and subjective or "false" tinnitus. In objective tinnitus an actual sound can be detected with a stethoscope or, in the odd case, simply by standing near the patient. The noise may arise from some deformation of the blood vessels, in which case it may signal a tumor or aneurysm; twitching of the muscles of the middle ear; a eustachian tube that remains open when it shouldn't; and so on.

Subjective tinnitus, which is far more common, is tougher to pin down. Clinicians caution that tinnitus should be considered a symptom of some larger problem, and in fact it's often associated with other symptoms like hearing loss or dizziness. But in many cases no definite cause can be established. "Subjective tinnitus . . . is presumed to originate from some type of electrophysiologic derangement in the cochlea, cranial nerve VIII, or central nervous system," one Mayo Clinic review notes, but beyond that the subject remains mysterious.
An actually audible (by others) ringing sound rarely occurs, but it's really a different ailment with detectable causes as listed above. The problem most people have and complain about is subjective tinnitus, which, as the linked article says, is "the false perception of sound in the absence of an acoustic stimulus, a phantom noise" and not an actual sound.
posted by pracowity at 1:13 AM on February 14, 2009


That is one of the things I find fascinating about it. When I pay attention to it it seems really loud and distracting (for example, when I went to bed after reading this thread last night). But today, I didn't notice it at all until I started reading this thread again.

To be honest, tinnitis is one of the reasons I needed to move back to Los Angeles, really. I need background noise to compete with my ear so that I have something else to listen to. Where I lived before was so quiet I couldn't sleep or concentrate. All I heard was my ear. It was awful.

Where I live now, in the summer there are loud crickets at night and I sleep better than I have in years because I hear them instead of the ring. I never thought I'd say this, but I really wish crickets still chirped like that in the winter.

My tinnitis started up after I ruptured an eardrum due to eustachian tube disfunction. I spent about $3000 on doctors before they finally told me they didn't know how to fix it or if it could be fixed. The part that made the onset of tinnitis much more intense was that about a year before my tinnitis showed up, someone I knew well -- one of the people who convinced me to move to the Bay area, really -- jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge because he couldn't cope with the condition. I remember him telling me that he didn't feel he could design any more and watching him slowly close his business to suspiciously "take a sabbatical" to deal with his depression over the ringing when what he was actually planning was to make the ringing stop permanently.

So the moment I heard the ring, all I could think was "Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck." I immediately knew it was a serious thing and that I might have to live with it forever, so I freaked out. It was pretty rough mentally for a while, but I won't be jumping off any bridges. I sure miss silence though. If I ever get to hear it again, I'm going to really treasure it.

It's so weird to have one of your top fantasies in life be that a nerve or two in your ear would just fucking die and leave you alone.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:16 AM on February 14, 2009


Kirth Gerson: I guess I wasn't being clear. When I say REALLY LOUD, I mean loud enough to drown out normal conversation. That's not a psychological, it-just-seems-louder-because-I'm-paying-attention effect. It really is a lot louder.

No, you were clear, and I understand, which is what I was trying to say when I wrote that "I'm not saying that sufferers should just ignore it and it would go away. I don't believe that would be effective." I myself wasn't being clear.

For some people the disorder is not that severe, while in others it is enough to drive them to suicide. I have it, and I am rarely if ever bothered by it, although it is always there. Several people mentioned that they "miss silence." I don't remember ever experiencing silence, so I find this sentiment curious, but I do not discount the suffering of these people.
posted by moonbiter at 5:34 AM on February 16, 2009


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